You could say that they don't know how lucky they are, but that would be a massive understatement.
That suggests that footballers are just happy-go-lucky, fortunate guys, as opposed to a gang who push their luck constantly, apparently confident that it will never run out and, for the most part, it doesn't. Which allows them to push and push the envelope. The cars get bigger, the fiancees get flashier engagement rings, the wives get more shopping bags than they can carry, the playing away gets ever more depraved. They get more brazen, publicly parading their good fortune like it's their due, giving hostages to fortune as their private behaviour threatens to blow up in their faces. And blow up it does, but at what real cost? And to whom?
“Ryan appreciates he is doing something he enjoys, and he also enjoys what it brings, and by putting that with his family and his home, he's got a perfect life, so why bugger it up by playing away?” This was the question Ryan Giggs's agent, Harry Swales, asked of a sportswriter in October 2010, during an interview that ultimately asked: “Is Ryan Giggs the last good man in Premier League football?”
While Swales set out this logical read of Giggs's position, the Manchester United footballer sat “with his hands on the table, undemonstrative, listening”. One can only speculate, now, what he must have been thinking. Either he was outwardly calm and inwardly in turmoil, running over the fact of his ongoing extra-marital relationship with his brother's wife, or the second affair with Imogen Thomas, then a month long, by her account.
Or, perhaps, Giggs was sitting there listening, calm and unbothered. Were he not able to square these contradictions, surely he wouldn't have been able to keep up the multiple duplicities, but, in the moment, he certainly didn't deny that he had the perfect life in football, his wife, Stacey and their two children.
Later in the interview, the writer asked Giggs why footballers went off the rails and he answered that too much money, too young, was to blame. Money and the celebrity culture turned the heads of everyone involved, he explained. “Some of the families give up their jobs and live off their sons,” Giggs said. “That would never have happened 10 years ago.”
“Some of these birds ...” Swales interjected.
Some of these birds, indeed. You don't need to ponder too hard why footballers behave as they do. They misbehave because they can, and because they get away with it.
When news of Ryan Giggs's affair with his sister-in-law Natasha broke — after the superinjunction was breached and he was named as the footballer who had the affair with Thomas — he is reported to have phoned his brother Rhodri to deny it. And when Rhodri told Ryan he didn't believe him, the latter's wife, Stacey, is said to have grabbed the phone and shouted: “It's not true. We don't believe Natasha.”
Before it became common knowledge that Giggs was the footballer behind the superinjunction, Stacey was rarely photographed and seldom in those shots of a gang of shopping footballers' wives or with the kids on the pages of glossy magazines. Her low profile tied in with the public perception of Giggs as a guy whose head had not been turned by his £24m wealth, who still lived close to where he grew up and had held on to many of his school friends.
In fact, it was only when his exposure seemed inevitable that we first became aware of her, on the red carpet at the 2010 Player of the Year awards, in a sexy black dress and bright-red lipstick that was reminiscent of Victoria Beckham's look when she first emerged after allegations about her husband and Rebecca Loos. Then, days later, Stacey and the children were high profile at Old Trafford, just before their world began falling apart.
Stacey was making a statement and seems to be sticking to it, as she's retreated abroad with her husband and family, away from the allegations that have not yet ended. Since she told Rhodri that they didn't believe Natasha, there have been published text messages, reports of an abortion of Ryan's baby and suggestions that he cheated more than twice. Stacey, however, continues to keep mum.
Recently, Chelsea footballer John Terry was on holiday in Dubai with his wife Toni, the childhood sweetheart — as many of the footballers' wives are — who stuck with him through the allegations of his affair with the ex-girlfriend of a former friend and teammate.
Stuck with him and, just a fornight ago, was photographed in various poses stuck to him. Toni, wearing a thong bikini, left little to the imagination as she wrapped her legs around Terry's waist as he stood in the sea. Terry passionately kissed Toni as they stood under a waterfall. And so on, vaguely too much information and very staged-looking and absolutely protesting too much, it seemed. But with an air of triumph, too, on Toni's part.
In a recent interview with a glossy magazine, Coleen Rooney talked about how happy she is and how lucky she feels. She's a successful young woman in her own right, after all, with an estimated fortune of £15m and a healthy little son, Kai, whom she clearly dotes on, to judge from photographs of them at daddy's football games and on the beach near the family's holiday home in Barbados. The significant statement, however, was that Coleen is determinedly a person for living in the moment. She wouldn't talk about the twice — twice! — that Wayne has been exposed for cheating on her with prostitutes, but she was prepared to make that declaration. She lives in the now, doesn't look back and doesn't look ahead. And, surprise, surprise, neither does Wayne. So, they don't reflect or dwell on past misdemeanours.
People rationalise and justify and come to terms with all kinds and all scales of betrayals and bad behaviour in the course of a lifetime. Some are minor misdemeanours, some are major. Some cannot be surmounted and some can. We all make mistakes.
We try, however, not to make them repeatedly, and we always have to weigh up the pros and cons of staying put or cutting and running. For most people, however, a husband's affair with a sister-in-law is pretty devastating. A brief one would be bad, an eight-year one, as seems to be the case with Ryan Giggs, is brutal. Getting her pregnant shortly before her wedding to your brother is pretty dreadful, probably made worse by the alleged delivery of the abortion fee to her house by bicycle. Hard to know how you square that one and then move on.
Coleen forgave Wayne his “auld slapper” before they were even married, and has since forgiven him a threesome with two other prostitutes that occurred while she was pregnant with Kai.
Model Abby Clancy kept her distance from fiance Peter Crouch after his hotel fling was exposed and then had a baby with him soon after, followed by sun holidays where they have given cameras plenty of PDA action, Toni and Terry style. It's what you do, it seems.
Interestingly, Ashley Cole is the only footballer to pay the price of believing that he could behave as he pleased. Cheryl Cole took one hit of infidelity, sang about how their love was worth fighting for and kept smiling, until it emerged that, ooops, he'd done it again. Then, she left him and left him more devastated than any rational person would expect, because he didn't really expect that his actions would have such consequences. And why would he?
Of course given that Christine Bleakley and Frank Lampard recently announced their engagement it has to be acknowledged that many footballers' marriages are models of solidity. Bleakley herself gave a clue as to why she and Lampard's is likely to be among them. Speaking of their relationship, she said it had been “an old-fashioned courtship” and that they enjoyed “our own little home life: cooking together, lighting candles, watching television and going to bed rather early.”
The headline-grabbing stuff is kept for their careers.